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Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Ultimate Comparison Guide for 2023

If you only have one day to spend at Universal Orlando Resort, you might be wondering whether to enjoy Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure theme park.

These are the two theme parks at Universal Orlando. While we suggest visiting both because they are so uniquely different, you might not have the luxury of time to go to both theme parks.

Our Ultimate Guide to Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure will help you decide your favorite theme park based on rides available, shows, food and unique experiences.

Universal globe outside of theme park entrance surrounded by lake and smoke

What is the Difference Between the Two Universal Theme Parks?

When comparing Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida, it helps to know the history of Universal Studios.

While most people call the entire Universal Orlando Resort, including the two theme parks, one water park, CityWalk and the hotels as “Universal Studios,” that is actually not correct.

Because Universal Studios Florida is the name of one of the theme parks at Universal Orlando Resort. Islands of Adventure is the other theme park. Make sense?

Universal Studios Florida opened in 1990. Islands of Adventure theme park opened in 1999.

Islands of Adventure is the newest theme park, so it has a lot more of the modern-day superhero, villain and movie theming. This theme park has more of the thrill rides and water rides.

Universal Studios is more classic Hollywood films and TV shows. This is where you will find a land dedicated to The Simpsons, as well as an E.T. Extra Terrestrial attraction and Scooby Doo characters doing meet and greets.

Both theme parks have Harry Potter lands.

The two theme parks are less than a 10 minute walk between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. They are actually side by side, but you will need to leave the park and walk through Universal CityWalk to get to the other, or take the Hogwart’s Express if you have a park to park ticket (2 park ticket).

The process of getting to each theme park is the same. You will park in the same parking garage and walk through Universal CityWalk. From there, you either go left to go into Islands of Adventure or go right to go into Universal Studios Florida.

Which Universal Park Has More Rides?

Islands of Adventure is the clear winner when it comes to comparing the number of theme park rides.

Universal Studios has 13 rides, while Islands of Adventure has 18 rides.

This number of rides includes Hogsmeade Express, which can be enjoyed from either theme park as long as you have a park to park ticket.

Comparing the Rides at Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure

Ahh, comparing Islands of Adventure rides with Universal Studios rides could take all day!

For a quick summary, the rides at Universal Studios Florida don’t have as many roller coasters. There are not as many thrill rides.

At Islands of Adventure, there are more rides (5 more than at Universal Studios), and they are more thrilling. Except for the kid-friendly rides in Seuss Landing.

Islands of Adventure has more kid-friendly rides than Universal Studios Florida, strangely enough, even though they also have more thrill rides.

Which Universal Park is Better for Harry Potter?

If you are wondering whether Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure Harry Potter lands are different, they are.

Both theme parks have a Wizarding World of Harry Potter Land. In Universal Studios, the land is Dragon Alley. In Islands of Adventure, the land is Hogsmeade.

Each of the lands has different theming just like the distinct areas in the books.

entrance to Hogwart's Castle at Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogsmeade has more of the most popular rides and things to do. These are the big-name thrill rides that usually have lines several hours long.

Hogwarts Castle is also located in Hogsmeade, the Harry Potter Land in Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park. 

Diagon Alley is more about the experience of exploring a Harry Potter land. Iconic destinations such as Platform 9 3/4s, Grimmauld Place, London’s King’s Cross, Carkitt Market and Knockturn Alley can be found in this land.

You can do more shopping in this part of the land at Universal Studios theme park, as well as buying more unique merchandise. Gringotts bank notes are a currency here, which is fun for all Harry Potter fans!

You can buy Harry Potter wands in each land and cast spells in each theme park.

Islands of Adventure vs. Universal Studios: Which to Visit First

If you are a first time visitor and want to get a great introduction to what Universal Orlando Resort is about, we suggest visiting Universal Studios first.

If your goal is to ride as many thrill rides as possible, go to Islands of Adventure first.

Which Universal Orlando Theme Parks Have Early Park Admission?

Both Universal Orlando theme parks have Early Park Admission for guests of official Universal Studios hotels. You will be able to enter the theme parks up to 1 hour before park opening.

Not every attraction, shop or restaurant will be open during the early admission hour.

Here are general rides that are available for Early Park Admission. They do change depending on the date:

Universal Studios Florida

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • Ollivanders
  • Hogwarts Express

Islands of Adventure

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Jurassic World VelociCoaster
  • Ollivanders
  • Hogwarts Express
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

As you can see, Islands of Adventure is the winner in comparing Early Park Admission because there are more experiences to choose from during that extra hour.

Express Passes at Islands of Adventure vs. Universal Studios

Express Passes are paid passes to bypass most of the line at an attraction or experience at Universal Orlando theme parks.

The cost of Express Passes varies widely due to when you purchase the pass, how busy the day is expected to be in the theme park, and whether or not you are staying at a Premium Hotel.

Not all attractions are part of the Express Pass system.

These are the attractions and experiences where you can pay to jump ahead in line. These are subject to change without notice, so always confirm current options when paying for an Express Pass:

Universal Studios Florida

  • The Bourne Stuntacular
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • E.T. Adventure
  • Fast & Furious – Supercharged
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Hogwarts Express (Park-to-Park admission ticket required)
  • Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
  • MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack
  • Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
  • Revenge of the Mummy
  • The Simpsons Ride
  • TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D

Islands of Adventure

  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
  • Caro-Seuss-el
  • The Cat in the Hat
  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
  • Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
  • Hogwarts Express (Park-to-Park admission ticket required)
  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Jurassic World VelociCoaster
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
  • Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
  • Poseidon’s Fury
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • Storm Force Accelatron

Which Universal Theme Park is Good for Kids?

Young kids will enjoy Islands of Adventure more than Universal Studios. However, there are plenty of things to do for kids in each theme park.

Due to minimum height requirements on Universal Studios rides, young children will not find a lot that they can ride in Universal Studios theme park.

Minimum heights can be as tall as 48″ (with one ride requiring 51″ as a minimum height), so the restrictions won’t just affect toddlers at Universal Studios Orlando.

Your child could be 8-10 years old and still not meet height requirements.

Islands of Adventure has more rides for shorter kids, however they tend to be in Seuss Landing and Dr. Seuss themed, which can be embarrassing for children trying to act grown up!

brightly colored entrance to Seuss Landing land

For babies and toddlers, Islands of Adventure is definitely the best theme park.

For kids 6 and older, the decision comes to which rides they would be interested and if they can meet the minimum height requirements.

Which Universal Orlando Theme Park is Best for Teenagers?

Islands of Adventure has more of the modern-day attractions and characters in the theme park.

If your teens are looking for action and thrill rides, then Islands of Adventure is best for teenagers at Universal Orlando Resort.

Which Universal Park is Best for Adults?

When comparing Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios for adults, it is important to know what type of experience you are looking for.

Young adults wanting thrill rides will probably like Islands of Adventure more.

Older adults who want a fun day at a theme park without needing to spin upside down on roller coaster tracks will likely enjoy Universal Studios more.

Which Universal Orlando Theme Park Has the Best Thrill Rides?

This is a tough one. It depends on the type of thrill rides that you enjoy, and whether you need to avoid any of the worst Universal Studios rides that can cause motion sickness.

Universal Studios has Fast and Furious – Supercharged, as well as Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. There are a lot of other rides that might be thrilling because of the special effects and simulators, but not because they are roller coasters.

We give the winner of Best Thrill Rides at Universal Studios Orlando to Islands of Adventure Theme Park. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter rides, including Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are better in this theme park.

Plus, Islands of Adventure has Jurassic World VelociCoaster.

Which Universal Orlando Theme Park Has the Most Water Rides?

If you want to get soaked without visiting Universal’s Volcano Bay water park, then you will want to seek out the best water rides at Universal Studios.

Islands of Adventure wins this competition between the two theme parks hands down!

Dudley Do-Right Falls water ride at Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios has closed their water play areas that were just for kids in January 2023.

Island of Adventure has three water rides for older kids and adults.

Prepare to get soaked on these rides and be sure to bring a change of clothes and shoes!

Which is Bigger: Universal Studios Or Islands of Adventure?

Both theme park are generally about the same size. While Universal Studios is bigger at 110 acres, Islands of Adventure is roughly the same at 108 acres.

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure each have 8 themed lands.

people standing outside the main entrance to universal studios florida theme park

Islands of Adventure has more rides, with a total of 18 attractions. Universal Studios has 13 attractions to ride.

Does Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Have Better Food?

If you plan on eating your way through a theme park day, you definitely want to know who has the better food and snack options.

We’ll be honest, we haven’t been overwhelmed with any of the food choices at any Universal Orlando theme park. The food seems to be just-okay at best. There is nothing that we would rave about.

With that being said, there are some standouts that you probably want to try.

Mythos restaurant at Islands of Adventure is one of the most popular restaurants at all of Universal Orlando resort and one of the hardest reservations to get. This restaurant earns awards for theme park dining, plus it’s a fun vibe.

At Universal Studios Florida, the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley is a Harry Potter-themed restaurant you don’t want to miss if you are a wizarding fan!

interior of the leaky cauldron Harry Potter restaurant universal

Also at Universal Studios, you can get a picture with a donut the size of your head in The Simpsons land known as Springfield.

woman holding a giant pink donut that is as big as her head

Both parks will have Butterbeer to enjoy in the Harry Potter lands.

If you need coffee to get through your day, both Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure have Starbucks locations, in addition to these great places to get coffee at Universal Studios.

Which Universal Orlando Theme Park Has Fireworks?

Universal Orlando theme parks do not have nightly fireworks shows like Walt Disney World. However, there are some night-time shows that you don’t want to miss.

Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration has closed at Universal Studios effective March 9, 2023.

Islands of Adventure has a nightly light show at Hogwarts Castle. While there are no fireworks, there are projections, lights and sound.

Fireworks are not found at Universal Studios except for rare events, such as Fourth of July and New Years Eve.

Which Has the Best Shows: Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios?

If you are not wanting to ride thrill rides all day, chances are you are looking for a fun show to watch.

Universal Studios is definitely the winner when it comes to the best shows. Perhaps that is because the theme park has less rides, but more shows and experiences.

Here are some of the live shows you will find in each theme park.

Universal Studios

  • Animal Actors On Location!
  • Celestina Warbeck & The Banshees in Diagon Alley
  • The Bourne Stuntacular (stunt show; will stand in line for admission)
  • The Blues Brothers Show
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard in Diagon Alley
  • Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show (special effects show; will stand in line for admission)

Islands of Adventure

  • Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle (only on select nights in Fall)
  • Frog Choir in Hogsmeade
  • Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear! in Seuss Landing
  • Poseidon’s Fury (live action show with flames and water; will stand in line for admission)
  • Triwizard Spirit Rally in Hogsmeade

Which Theme Park is Best for Characters?

We doubt that you are picking a theme park to visit based on characters alone, but if you are looking for those Instagram-worthy photo opps or have a small child that only wants to see their oversized friends from the movies and TV, here’s how to decide between the two.

Universal Studios has the more classic cartoon characters that adults will remember from their childhood. Think Scooby Doo and the Simpsons.

woman standing with Simpsons characters wearing big shoes at Universal Studios

You will also find classic movie characters, too, such as the Blues Brothers and Back to the Future characters.

Over at Islands of Adventure, you will find modern-day superhero characters such as Wolverine and Spider Man.

You will also find Dreamworks characters, such as Puss in Boots, and Dr. Seuss characters, such as Cat in the Hat and Thing One and Thing Two.

woman posing with Dr. Seuss characters at Universal theme park

Does Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure Cost More?

Both theme parks are the same price for admission.

Be sure to see our guide to the 17 best ways to save money on Universal Orlando tickets, including purchasing Universal tickets at Sam’s Club or Costco.

Which is Better: Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure?

Which Universal theme park is better? It depends on what you are lookin for.

Islands of Adventure is better for thrill rides. Universal Studios is better for a laid-back day at a theme park.